If I had to pick one favourite salad, I think this would be it (with Caesar coming in a close second). When my mom and I were travelling in Bangkok and Pattaya many years ago, we ate Som tam (raw papaya salad) in almost every street-food stall that we went to, accompanied with aromatic bowlfuls of noodle soups and the best dessert of all time – sticky rice with mango (more on that soon!)
If there’s one thing I’ve leant from cooking Thai food, following a recipe to a tee never works; it’ll be close, but a little tweaking is always required to get the perfect balance of flavours that you envisaged. I agree that this is the case with whatever dish you cook, but it’s more so with Thai since most (if not all) dishes use sour, umami, sweet and spicy elements in their base—lime, shrimp paste, fish sauce, palm sugar, and chilli. You will need to add a little pinch of this, and a dab of that, to really make it sing.
Having grown up eating sliced raw mango dipped in chilli powder and salt, it’s not surprising that I prefer the mango version of this salad. Unripe mangoes have a natural tartness to them as compared to raw papayas which have a slightly milder flavour. If you’re going to use raw papaya, make your dressing a little more punchy. I usually serve this as a salad, but you can make it a light lunch by tossing in some cooked prawns and snake beans in the end. A perfect meal for the hot and humid days that this time of year throws at us.
- 1 large, green unripe mango (about 350 grams)
- 3 cherry tomatoes, halved (or 1 small tomato, cut into eighths)
- 2-3 snake beans, cut into batons (optional)
- 1 sprig mint leaves
- 5-6 thai basil leaves
- A small handful of coriander leaves, roughly torn
- 2 tsp peanuts
- FOR THE DRESSING:
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 ½ large green chillies, seeds left in (deseed if you like it milder)
- 1 ½ tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp palm sugar (or white sugar)
- Salt, to taste
- Toast the peanuts in a dry pan until slightly darkened around the edges. Set aside.
- Peel off the skin of the mango using a peeler or a knife. Hold the mango in one hand and making sure your fingers are tucked away, hack away at the mango using your knife until you get lots of vertical cuts; shave the top layer—you’ll get lots of julienned slivers. Repeat until all you’re left with is the seed. (Alternatively you could use a grater to do this, but I find that it becomes too wet and soggy).
- Add the garlic cloves and chillies to a mortar and pestle along with salt, and pound until the garlic is completely crushed and the chillies are reduced to smaller bits (Alternatively, use a mixer or chop with a knife).
- Add lime juice, palm sugar, and fish sauce to the mortar and mix until fully incorporated and the sugar is completely dissolved. Taste and adjust seasoning at this stage.
- To serve, add the mango slivers to a bowl. Crush the tomatoes with your hands and add that along with coriander leaves, mint, basil leaves, and half the peanuts. Pour the dressing on top and mix thoroughly until evenly coated. Taste again and adjust seasoning. Garnish with the rest of the peanuts and serve immediately.